After Wednesday’s earthquake: civil defence

 

 

On Wednesday an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude on the Richter scale was reported in the Maltese islands. As far as we are aware no damage was caused, yet it would be appropriate to consider a number of relevant issues.

Are we prepared for the consequences of a much stronger earthquake which would cause considerable damage including the potential death of a substantial number of persons?

Around two years ago, the Civil Protection Department (CPD) in conjunction with the Sicilian counterparts carried out an earthquake simulation exercise in Gozo which, undoubtedly, provided CPD personnel with valuable experience. It is not known if the department has been involved in any subsequent exercises, either locally or abroad, nor is it known if any specific operational changes were implemented by the CPD as a result of the lessons learned in the 2015 exercise.

It is, however, pertinent to point out that it is not only the CPD, the Police, the AFM and the Health Authorities that need adequate and continuous training to cope with the aftermath of a strong earthquake in the Maltese Islands. In addition to the operators of the different sectors of the infrastructure (energy, water, transport) the civilian population should also receive training for this unlikely eventuality.

Simulation exercises involving the civilian population are necessary as they would develop at local level an ability to manage a disaster. We need to start from scratch in building up a civil defence corps worthy of the name, coordinated and trained by the CPD but based in each locality in Malta and Gozo.

It is a responsibility which, together with adequate resources, should be assigned to local councils under the watchful eye of the CPD.

This would be the appropriate way to build up an adequate general level of preparedness for disaster management. The involvement of the local councils would also ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities are addressed. Specific protocols need to be developed and tested in conjunction with local councils regarding the assistance required by children and those who are bedridden or disabled. Catering for all disabilities is an indispensible prerequisite and this requires trained personnel to which the CPD currently has little if any access. It is an easily identifiable deficiency that needs to be addressed forthwith.

Those in charge of disaster management in time of need require the ability to communicate with people having impaired hearing. Is anyone at the CPD, the Police, the AFM or the Health Authorities able to communicate in sign language? Addressing this communication deficiency on the part of the authorities is required not just to ensure that Malta is adequately prepared for disaster management, it is also an everyday deficiency that every authority in Malta that offers a direct service to the population at large needs to address. With around 500 known Maltese with impaired hearing and a number of others who could have remained below the radar, this is an issue that is manageable primarily at local level.

The CPD is one of the youngest departments and to date it has given sterling service in fire-fighting, managing pollution and providing assistance required as a result of flooding after heavy storms. We look forward to the next step in its development: ensuring that training in disaster management is an integral part of the services of local authorities.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 27 August 2017

Advertisements

Next Thursday’s earthquake

earthquake

 

This will be a simulation exercise coordinated by Malta’s Civil Protection Department at 4pm next Thursday in Gozo and three hundred people will be involved.

It will be carried out with EU assistance and in conjunction with the Civil Protection Authorities in Sicily who are partners with the Maltese Civil Protection Department (CPD) in establishing a network within the region that is able to manage seismological disasters.

This exercise signals the coming of age of Malta’s CPD. It has to date delivered sterling service in the areas of fire-fighting, managing pollution and providing assistance required as a result of flooding after heavy storms. Training its staff, and subjecting them to a gruelling simulation exercise, is a gigantic step forward for the CPD. It is the first step of a long journey that is dependent on the dedication of the CPD staff  – which is unlimited – as well as the resources allocated by the state. Such resources, although limited over the years, seem to be slowly trickling down, for a change.

Developing the CPD’s ability to handle disasters will be a major challenge. For a start it will identify its capability to develop effective coordination with the Police Force, with the AFM (Armed Forces) and the health authorities as well as with local councils.

At the end of the day the CPD’s proficiency in disaster management will be measured in terms of its response time as well as the number of lives it saves in such situations. This will generally depend on the severity of the disaster with which it is faced.

This will not only translate into a general level of preparedness. It will also require focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities and in this respect the role of local councils is indispensable. Specific protocols need to be developed and tested in conjunction with local councils regarding the assistance required by children and those who are bedridded or disabled. Catering for all disabilities is an indispensible prerequisite and it requires trained personnel to which the CPD currently has no access. It is an easily identifiable deficiency which needs to be addressed forthwith.

One small example would suffice: how would the CPD personnel, the police, the AFM – or the health authorities for that matter – communicate with persons with  impaired hearing in the absence of staff able to communicate in sign language? Addressing this deficiency is required not just to ensure that Malta is adequately prepared for disaster management. It is also an everyday deficiency that every authority in Malta that offers a direct service to the population at large needs to address. With around five hundred known Maltese with impaired hearing and a number of others who may have remained below the radar, this is an issue which is manageable primarily at a local level. Yet to date it has not been adequately prioritised.

In this context, one would also need to query the level of preparedness of institutions such as Mount Carmel Hospital and id-Dar tal-Providenza. I am informed that even when it comes to fire drills in residential homes for the elderly, the results were not impressive, to put it mildly.

Prompt and effective coordination between the different authorities is crucial in ensuring disaster management. There is a need to test how the different types of equipment used by the CPD, the Police and the AFM interact. Are they compatible? The planned simulation exercise is an opportunity to identify whether, in an actual practice run, matters will work out as planned. Lessons learned in this area will have to be translated into better procurement procedures in the future to ensure smooth interaction between the CPD, the police and the Army.

This will translate into compatible communication equipment as well as adequately maintained vehicles, sea craft and aeroplanes/helicopters which can be used in difficult circumstances. Knowing that maintenance of equipment has never been our forte, this could be quite a challenge!

The simulation exercise on Gozo on 3 September will necessarily lead to a number of lessons learnt which will have to be acted upon in order that Malta’s capability in disaster management is enhanced. This is definitely a bold step in the right direction.

I look forward to the next steps which require the involvement of local authorities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 30 August 2015

Il-lingwa tas-sinjali

sign_language

Meta l-Ministru tal-Finanzi kien qiegħed jaqra d-diskors tal-Budget il-ġimgħa l-oħra d-diskors tiegħu kien maqlub għal-lingwa tas-sinjali (bil-malti). L-istess id-diskors tal-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni l-bieraħ u iktar tard matul il-ġimgħa l-istess ser jiġri bit-tweġiba tal-Prim Ministru.

Tajjeb. Anzi tajjeb ħafna.

Huwa neċessarju li nifhmu li dan m’huwiex xi kapriċċ iżda neċessita. Hu pass pożittiv. Iżda huwa meħtieġ li dan ikun estiż għall-oqsma kollha tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Bħala minimu naħseb li hu neċessarju li jkun hemm aċċess għal-lingwa tas-sinjali f’dawk l-oqsma tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika li huma f’kuntatt dirett mal-pubbliku.

Hu neċessarju li l-Korp tal-Pulizija jkollu membri tiegħu imħarrġa biex jikkomunikaw bil-lingwa tas-sinjali għax il-pulizija f’kull ħin ikunu in kuntatt ma kull settur tal-popolazzjoni u huwa neċessarju li jkun possibli li l-pulizija tkun f’posizzjoni li tikkomunika ma kulħadd. L-istess jgħodd għad-dipartiment tal-protezzjoni ċivili, għad-dipartment tal-edukazzjoni, għad-dipartiment tas-servizzi soċjali kif ukoll għall-Kunsilli Lokali.

Mhux faċli li tħarreġ in-nies mil-lum għal għada. Dan nifhmu. Bħalma nifhem l-impenn li s-soċjetá tagħna tkun dejjem iktar inklussiva: tagħti spazju lil kulħadd, tisma’ lil kulħadd u tagħti l-opportunitá lil kulħadd biex isemma’ leħnu. Huwa proċess li jieħu ż-żmien. Imma huwa proċess li bħalma ġie emfasizzat fil-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali, jeħtieġ li jwassal biex il-lingwa tas-sinjali tkun rikonoxxuta ukoll bħala lingwa uffiċjali tal-pajjiż.

B’hekk inkunu dejjem iktar pajjiż li jinkludi lil kulħadd: jisma’ lil kulħadd u jħalli lil kulħadd isemma’ leħnu b’dik il-lingwa li jifhem u li hu kapaċi juża.

Ippubblikat fuq iNews it-Tlieta 12 ta’ Novembru 2013

sign language 2

Mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ AD dwar bidliet fil-Kostituzzjoni : (14) Lingwa tas-sinjali

sign language

(14) Lingwa tas-sinjali

Il-lingwa tas-sinjali bil-Malti għandha tiġi rikonoxxuta mill-Gvern bħala lingwa ufficjali.

(silta mill-Kapitlu Numru 9 tal-Programm Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika)

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (22) Sign Language

sign language

The following extracts are taken verbatim from Chapter 9 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Every public broadcasting station also has obligations towards persons with disability. In this regard, every Maltese station should respect persons with disability in the way it speaks about them and to represent them according to a code of ethics on the subject. Every station should transmit programmes such as news broadcasts using sign language. Where possible, films and documentaries should be shown using sub-titles.

Maltese sign language should be recognised by Government as an official language. Sign language interpreters should increase. The state should ensure that sign language interpretation is main streamed in the public sector. Public procurement should always include a disability dimension.

L-Estratti segwenti huma meħuda kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 9 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Kull stazzjon ta’ xandir pubbliku għandu wkoll obbligi lejn persuni b’diżabilità. Għaldaqstant kull stazzjon Malti għandu jirrispetta l-persuni b’ diżabiltà bil-mod kif jitkellem dwarhom u jirrappreżentahom permezz ta’ kodici ta’ etika dwar dan is-suġġett. Kull stazzjon għandu wkoll jittrażmetti programmi bħall-aħbarijiet permezz tal-lingwa tas-sinjali. Fejn hu possibbli, films u dokumentarji għandhom jintwerew bis-sottotitli wkoll.

Il-lingwa tas-sinjali bil-Malti għandha tiġi rikonoxxuta mill-Gvern bħala lingwa ufficjali. Għandhom jiżdiedu l-interpreti tal-lingwa tas-sinjali. L-istat għandu jiżgura li l-interpretazzjoni tal-lingwa tas-sinjali tiġi inkluża bis-sħiħ fis-settur pubbliku. L-akkwist pubbliku irid dejjem ikollu dimensjoni ta’ diżabilità.